Open-access train operator Grand Central has extended its temporary suspension of train services during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions until at least the end of June as the company continues to monitor government advice on social distancing and plan a return of its train services later in the summer.
Although franchise operators are receiving financial support from the government to keep trains running, open-access operators, such as Grand Central, are not.
So, as UK rail passengers return under a new limited timetable and social distancing rules this week, Grand Central’s managing director said the company would continue to shape its return, while monitoring passenger demand elsewhere on the rail network throughout June.
Richard McClean said: “Being an open-access train operator means, unlike franchised operators, we must sell enough tickets to cover our operating costs. The safety of our staff and passengers is essential but social distancing rules mean we cannot yet welcome the number of customers needed to run the service sustainably.
”I think over the coming month we’ll get a really informative picture of passenger attitude, Government intentions and how the industry is dealing with social distancing but for now the most sensible course of action for us is to monitor all this and use the time to plan our return.”
The majority of Grand Central staff have been told they will continue to be supported under the government’s furlough scheme, even though they appear ready to resume work at a moment’s notice. Meanwhile, a skeleton team continues to discuss plans for a return to service with parent company Arriva.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the messages of support we are getting from our passengers,” Richard McClean added. “We recently conducted a survey of attitudes amongst our customers and social media followers. We enjoyed a huge response and it was heartening to see how many people and communities rely on us and can’t wait to be back on board.
“It also provided us with a really useful insight into what people expect from us in terms of social distancing, ticketing and how we deliver service on board. We will continue to check in with our customers in this way to ensure the timing of our return and the service we offer meets their needs.”
Grand Central has been a rail industry success story since it was founded in 2007, initially running services between Sunderland and London Kings Cross. This year the company celebrates the tenth anniversary of its services between Bradford and London.